There’s something wonderful about the Mason jar and the bits of summer it preserves for yummy winter consumption. This simple glass jar is an American classic, and reminds us of Grandma, while still being relevant in our whiz-bang 21st-century lives.
The text below is of Matthew White’s short story that aired on “The Shape of Things,” the weekly show he creates with RobinHoodRadio.com, “the smallest NPR station in the nation.” Enjoy the script, or better yet listen:
Mason Jars, by Matthew White
There’s just something about the Mason jar. For more than 100 years it has held the bright colors of summer harvests, in neat rows in your, or perhaps more likely, your grandmother’s pantry. The twist of a lid and a pop of the cap would unleash the sweet and savory flavors of summer.
Pints for jellies, relishes and bread-and-butter pickles, quarts for green beans, black-eyed peas, and summer fruit in a simple syrup. Besides the brilliant colors of the contents, it is the pleasing shape of the jars as they create a mosaic on narrow shelves. The roundness of its body in plain view, and the regimented rectangular shape as seen straight on–it is visually simple, but tactically pleasing.
The labor represented in each jar amplifies the pleasure of the senses, visually, manually–and of course when consuming the contents.
My great grandmother was a wonderful canner, putting up any number of items from her sister’s vast garden and orchard. My mother also did this just before deep-freezes edged out the cellar pantry as a way of preserving foods. Two of my favorites were chow-chow, a head-spinningly delectable concoction of tomatoes, peppers, onions and vinegar, was the perfect condiment for anything and everything. This was my great grandmother’s recipe, and the sight of the minced vegetables held within the pint jars was enough to make mouths water.
My other favorite was apricots. My mom would can them in a very light syrup, which kept the tartness of the summer fruit intact. She would crack open a jar when she made waffles on Sunday mornings. She would empty the jar into a blender, where it would be whipped into a deliciously smooth puree. This would be poured onto buttered, piping-hot waffles, and topped with a nice dousing of maple syrup.
As winter wore on, the cellar because less colorful, but the jars were washed and stored until the following summer, when the ritual would begin all over again. Out came the huge black speckled enamel cauldrons and wire frames that held the jars upright, and a box of new golden rings and caps to seal in the food and protect them safely, until that Sunday morning in February when mom would say, “Honey, go down to the cellar and bring up a jar of apricots.”
Sweeter words were never uttered.